1. Reading Terminal Market
If you go to Philly, you have to go to Reading Terminal Market. It is literally your one-stop-shop to have a taste of a plethora of cuisines. The aromas waft all around the market, and everything is fresh, and locally grown and produced. They have handmade confections and baked goods straight from the oven, and cuisines ranging from Greek to Indian. And on top of the little shops studded all around the market, it is home to the widest variety of restaurants under one roof. You can visit the market and try a variation of snacks to get the full experience of what the market has to offer.
2. Cheu Noodle Bar
This place is one of the most hip ramen bars around. It specializes primarily in Japanese cuisine, but also prides itself on its take on Asian fusion. You might be scoffing while wondering what two guys from Philadelphia even know about the complexities in Asian cuisine. Even they admittedly reply - nothing. That’s the beauty of it. The food being served is what the owners like to eat: it’s personal. While the food is often informed by tradition, it’s never defined by it. All they require of you is a willing mind and a willing stomach. Apart from noodles, they also serve Asian bites, beer, wine, and cocktails.
To match with the theme, the walls are covered with graffiti that is designed creatively from ramen packets. It’s a great place for small groups of friends to come together for a meal of flavourful noodles and a fun time. However, be sure to make a reservation because the place packs up fast!
If you are looking for a more high-end and swanky setting for your dinner, XIX is the restaurant to be at. Located in the swanky Rittenhouse Square area, XIX prides itself on its inventive menu that constantly changes according to the fresh produce available in Philadelphia. The menu is highly seafood centric, but they also serve poultry, game, and beef, with an emphasis on locally-sourced ingredients. Sitting at the restaurant’s sought-after window tables, watching the sunset on a summer evening or gazing at the city lights while savoring some of the best dishes in Philadelphia - that’s the food dream.
4. Tony Luke’s Cheesesteak
You didn’t think you’d make it through a food list of Philly without cheesesteaks, a sandwich with steak and cheese, did you? Which is the best is highly debated, but Tony Luke’s cheesesteak has often been dubbed “The Real Taste of South Philly”, and not without reason. Founded in 1992, it is now an international sandwich destination. While their extensive menu can seem overwhelming, a pro tip is that you can’t go wrong with either the Cheesesteak (with Cheez Whiz or American cheese) or the Roast Pork Italian, which are the two most popular choices by far.
If you want to go an extra step and order like a true Philly-sandwich-shop faithful, just say if you want to order a cheesesteak, with American cheese or whiz cheese, and with or without onion. Just follow this simple template: quantity + type of cheese + with or without (onion). So, if you want to order a single cheesesteak with onions, the order goes “One whiz with”. Tricky, but it’s all in good fun and you get a delicious cheesesteak at the end of it!
5. V Street
Another gem located in Rittenhouse Square, V Street is where global foods riff on an experimental vegan take, served in a small wood and brick space with a bar and kitchen counter. The menu is inspired by great ethnic and street foods of the world. But they put their own spin on dishes. Rather than anything too literal, V Street uses all these great flavors to create a new dining experience full of bold spices and adventurous flavors. And yes, it’s all vegan.
V Street offers lunch, dinner, brunch, and drinks, including their signature cocktails. They mix drinks that taste remarkably like something healthy, so you can celebrate without the guilt.
Vetri has a longstanding reputation as being one of the most respected and influential Italian restaurants in the country.
After years of working in some the finest kitchens in Italy, Chef Marc Vetri returned home to his native Philadelphia, and took over the intimate, jewel-box townhouse. Originally opened and operated with a more traditional a la carte menu, Vetri moved to a tasting-menu-only format to fully showcase the constantly evolving, dynamic creativity of Chef Vetri and his kitchen staff, and their desire to offer an unparalleled dining experience. As Vetri’s dinner menu has evolved over the years, so too has its complementary beverage program. When the restaurant first opened, there was a 70-bottle Italian wine list. Today the wine cellar, which has been carefully expanded over time, boasts 2,500 bottles.
7. Evil Eye Cafe
Evil Eye Cafe is a fun cafe, a place where you can buy a thirst-quenching cup of bubble tea, a type of milk tea with tapioca pearls that’s famous in Taiwan, and a moist and creamy cannelloni at the same time. Apart from that, they also boast a wide array of sweet treats and other pastries, made from scratch in the quaint little cafe. The interior of the cafe has a quirky feel, and it allows for your own creativity to flow. It’s a perfect place to chill and use your laptop to work, or just to unwind in general.
Don’t be alarmed if you see cats walking around! The cafe is pet friendly!
8. Kensington Quarters
This butcher shop / restaurant / bar is teeming with hipsters from all over Philadelphia. Don’t be put off by the fact that this place also butchers meat. The food is in fact very fancy, like chicken liver and egg yolk ravioli, along with other well-done meat dishes. The ambience inside is very modern, light and artsy. It’s very Instagram worthy!
Their mission is a very humble one: to support local agriculture and sustainable practice by giving small farmers an outlet for the food they grow. Due to this, they pride themselves on using whole animals, heritage grains, seasonal produce, and local artisanal, dairy products.
On top of that, Kensington Quarters also offers an array of classes in butchery, cooking, and other culinary topics. You can try your hand at these different culinary skills and see how well you fare, and then settle in for a nice meal after.
9. Mood Café
Mood Cafe started out as a pint-sized Indian place doling out lassis, ice cream, and other sweet but healthy treats. It specializes in the lassi, a delicious concoction of yogurt and fruit drink, originally from India, but gaining popularity worldwide. At Mood Cafe, you are greeted with a colourful menu that shows the endless combinations of the different lassis you could order. Each cup of lassi costs 2.99 USD. The popular flavor is mango, followed by the more traditional salted lassi. But you can mix and match the flavors to your taste, making the experience all the more fun.
They also serve up an array of Indian snacks that you can eat guilt-free, because they are just that healthy!
Having opened its doors in 2008, Zahav is a modern Israeli restaurant that brings the authentic flavors of Israel’s cultural heritage to Philadelphia.
The name Zahav means “gold” in Hebrew, and it is a reference to Jerusalem, which has been a cultural crossroads for thousands of years. The design of the restaurant is very careful and full of purpose. It echoes the hidden courtyards of Jerusalem, with golden limestone floors and walls, hand-carved tables, and soaring ceilings.
The soul of Zahav is the laffa bread, baked to order in the wood-fired Taboon. The creamy and nutty hummus will transport you to Jerusalem, and the sizzling skewers of meat grilled over hardwood charcoal are delicious. Zahav offers a small-plate menu that encourages guests to sample the large variety of cultural influences on the cuisine of Israel - from Eastern Europe to North Africa and from Persia to the Eastern Mediterranean.
Enjoy the bounty of the Israeli table with a cold Lemonnana, a cocktail from their award-winning list, or a bottle of boutique Israeli wine from one of the largest selections outside of Israel.
11. Global Crepes & Local Shakes
Global Crepes & Local Shakes is a cafe-restaurant with outdoor seating located in the East Passyunk dining area in South Philadelphia. They offer a varied and healthy menu, some of the highlights being sweet and savory crepes, including vegan options. Of course, there are sinful versions of the crepes, like Bananutella if you want to treat yourself!
Apart from crepes, they also have an extensive drinks menu, from lassis and smoothies to a good ol’ cup of joe (coffee). Sometimes, eating a sweet crepe paired with a good cup of coffee and a great read, while sitting outside on a warm day, is all you need.
12. RL2 Restaurant
R2L sits 500 feet (152 meters) above the city on the 37th floor of Two Liberty Place and it features wall-to-wall breathtaking panoramic views. With its bird’s-eye views of Philadelphia and creative American cuisine, R2L sets the scene for some of the city’s most spectacular culinary experiences. The R2L experience begins with an exclusive elevator ride to the 37th floor of Two Liberty Place. Enjoy R2L’s hand-crafted cocktails and wrap-around seating. It’s one of the best places in Philly to grab a drink with friends and watch the sunset. Enjoy a memorable meal in the dining room featuring great service and spectacular panoramic views of Philadelphia at R2L.
13. Good Karma Cafe
At Good Karma Cafe, you can get a cup of Organic and Fair Trade Certified coffee and build up on your karmic points for doing your part for the environment. The Good Karma Cafe prides itself on its eco-friendliness and sustainable practices. They sell coffee with a cause, like their Equal-Latte to promote marriage equality. The reception of this idea was so good that they now have 3 branches within the central areas of Philadelphia.
Apart from coffee and cakes, they also sell a range of vegan dishes, like baked tofu and pizza, perfect choices for lunch time.
14. Federal Donuts
What happens when you combine the top two favorite food items: fried chicken and donuts? Visit Federal Donuts and try their iconic fried chicken donut sandwich to find out! This place is full to bursting with creativity in terms of their flavor combinations. You can also get an assortment of regular donuts, although ‘regular’ is not the word you would think of when you actually visit this place. It’s a sugary, sinful experience you’d have to try out for yourself.
This is Iron Chef Jose Garces’ restaurant, workshop, laboratory and playground. After its recent restructuring, there’s a new pricing structure, an end to the complicated reservation process, and a new executive chef. Everything about it is easier now and more approachable. And there’s also a new menu that resets every single dish on the massive 12-course tasting with a fresh, occasionally challenging, often comforting, and exceptionally conceived plate. if you get the chance to dine here, it’ll be a meal you’ll remember for years to come.
16. Dutch Eating Place
Although we already have mentioned Reading Terminal Market above, this particular place within the market is a must-try for anyone visiting Philadelphia. This is the best place to try an authentic Pennsylvania Dutch breakfast, although they do serve lunch items as well. The Dutch culture is very meticulous with food preparation, and the Dutch make everything from scratch; this is the same at Dutch Eating Place. They make everything from scratch, and even freshly squeeze fruit juices as the orders come in. Dishes include fluffy blueberry pancakes, creamy cups of grits, turkey sausages, and scrapple, which is a type of meatloaf made from pork scraps and trimmings combined with cornmeal and wheat flour, just to name a few.
Tip: Try out their apple dumplings; they are absolutely to die for, and a real fan favourite!
17. Campo's Deli
You just can’t take the sports out of Philly, and where sports is involved, the go-to food is a sandwich from Campo’s Deli. This deli started out as a grocery shop in 1947, and has since become a Philly favourite. The local Philly chain offers all the mainstays like cheesesteaks & Italian hoagies, all made with undivided love and attention. The Heater is a sandwich they created, which is a twist on the classic cheesesteak, but at least ten times spicier. If you’re going to a football game, be sure to stop by at Campo’s first!
18. Butter's Soul Food To Go
Located in the heart of North Philadelphia’s Brewery Town section, Butter’s Soul Food is a local business that’s run with the efficiency of a well-oiled machine. No fussing around, order your food, and take it with you. They serve up authentic Southern-style fried chicken, with an array of choices for your sides that will even satisfy the pickiest eater. Sides include macaroni and cheese, cornbread, and candied yams.
Butter’s Soul Food To Go hopes to give its patrons a touch of class, while fueling the nostalgia through their food to give you the feeling of home.
19. Bud & Marilyn's
At Bud & Marilyn’s, be expected to be served retro-American dishes, classic drinks, and most importantly, a good time. While the food holds integrity among the American classics, the environment and atmosphere within the restaurant is very kitschy and quirky, complete with a retro rec-room vibe at the bar.
The owner opened the restaurant to pay homage to the place she grew up in. The restaurant has a very simple focus: great food and drinks, complete with genuine hospitality. The menu is very American, with dishes like cheese curds, fried chicken, grits, confetti cake and drinks like Old Fashioned.
Bud & Marilyn’s is open to both walk-ins and those with a reservation.
With Philadelphia’s dynamic food scene, it takes a lot to make it to the top of a Best Restaurants list in a city like Philly. You need culinary geniuses in the kitchen for starters, because you’re in competition with some of the best chefs in the country. You need to have an excellent crew and connections to the best product. You have to understand not just the back of the house, but the front, too — how to make every dinner an event and hospitality seem like second nature. That’s exactly how Laurel made their way to the top.
Laurel is one of the top restaurants, if not the top restaurant, in all of Philadelphia. Their take on modern French-influenced-American cuisine is reflected clearly on their menu, ranging from dishes like Braised Pork Cheek with espresso to Wild Burgundy Snails.
Do note that it is a BYOB restaurant, so you are encouraged to bring your own booze; bring whatever you feel would go along nicely with the meal. However, making a reservation is a bit tricky because it is so high in demand. But if you dine at Laurel’s, it will be a meal you’ll remember and rave about for a long time.
Only in Philadelphia
The food scene in Philadelphia has evolved and soared to new heights over the past few decades. But the city still pays homage to traditional styled foods all around. Every corner of Philadelphia has a new food experience waiting, so keep this list at hand and treat your taste buds to a gastronomical feast, only in Philadelphia!
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